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Luiz Hara’s Japanese Larder:
In his introduction to The Japanese Larder, Luiz Hara points out that his book is not, in fact, a Japanese cookbook but rather is designed to introduce and utilise Japanese ingredients so that the home cook can try out both traditional and new ideas. He divides the book into chapters focusing on core Japanese seasonings with specific attention paid to achieving umami in one’s kitchen; dried, fermented and preserved ingredients; spices, condiments and garnishes; rice, noodle and tofu dishes; fruits and vegetables; teas and beverages; sauces and marinades.
I read the book cover to cover in one sitting as it is well written in an easily accessible style and the recipes are interesting and enticing as well as beautifully photographed. For those feeling a bit jaded in the kitchen – I know I do sometimes – this set of recipes made me want to get my pots and pans out. First I needed to go shopping as I did not have the full set of ingredients for even one of the recipes.
I admit to feeling rather intimidated by this cookbook. While I have often eaten Japanese cuisine it has always been in a restaurant where, if truth be told, I do not stray far off my own beaten track – sushi, sashimi, miso soup, tempura, noodle and rice dishes. I have never attempted to cook Japanese dishes in my own kitchen although I live in an area surrounded by Japanese supermarkets. I venture into these only to replenish my stores of soy sauce, tamari, soba noodles and edamame beans. Ok, I guess boiling edamame beans could be said to be Japanese cooking but this cookbook looked much more complex than that.
While I was a bit anxious about the unfamiliarity of the recipes I was also enthralled. The accompanying photos with excellent food styling twinkled with promise. Many of the recipes require skills or application beyond what I felt ready for without tuition – making tempura or my own udon noodles, for example. I am one of those home-cooks who prefers to leave certain things to the professionals. However, should anyone wish to do so, Hara clearly explains the steps required to become proficient in these and other feats. I especially enjoyed the invitation to use one’s feet in the process of udon noodle making. Hara also holds one’s hand in a Japanese shop. Part of the reason that I only buy a limited set of items in the Japanese stores on my doorstep is that I haven’t the slightest idea what most of the goods are. Now, having read this most informative book, I have more of an understanding.
Paging through the recipes I thought how my children would be over the moon to come home to Chicken Katsu Curry – one of their favourite dishes – but I draw the line at deep frying. I am also not ready to make my own ramen so I passed over the noodle dishes as it felt like cheating to substitute store-bought noodles, although Hara gives permission to do so and I think I might when cooking more extensively from this lovely book. Similarly, with tofu, the more adventurous cook may choose to learn how to make their own, but I will continue to buy mine ready-made.
When it came to choosing a couple of dishes to try out for this review I decided to stick to what I already know. The beauty of these recipes is that some of them take dishes from Italian cuisine – pasta and risotto – and add a Japanese twist. I wondered how these would taste.
Seeking out some of the ingredients discussed in The Japanese Larder made me realise a thing or two about my local supermarket. I had no idea it stocked punnets of Japanese mushrooms nor had I ever noticed the variety of Japanese ingredients sold in its special selection section. The home cook has become very intrepid while I have had my head buried in the sand.
Buying a new set of ingredients in the Japanese stores reminded me of how readers responded initially to Ottolenghi’s recipes full of za’atar, sumac, barberries, dried limes and the rest. Nowadays my cupboards are full of these ingredients and I use them regularly. The Japanese Larder has forced me out of my comfort zone and with its help, I hope to explore this cuisine with increasing confidence.
For those of you who would like to try one of the recipes I attempted, here’s Luiz’s
in Luiz's words 'a super easy, quick mid-week dinner and a fantastic way to introduce Japanese miso into your everyday cooking.'
- 200 grams dried linguine
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
- freshly ground black pepper
- micro parsley or basil optional
- 75 grams unsalted butter
- 1 banana shallot, peeled and finely sliced
- 2 tbsp light brown or white miso paste
In a large pan filled with boiling salted water, cook the linguine until al dente following the packet instructions. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquor.
Meanwhile, dry-fry the pine nuts in a non-stick frying pan or skillet until lightly golden, then roughly chop and set aside till needed
Make the sauce in the same frying pan or skillet used to toast the nuts. Melt the butter stirring from time to time and when it starts to brown and smell a little nutty, lower the heat. Add the shallot and stir to coat in butter. Cook for a couple of minutes until the shallot is softened, remove from the heat then add the brown miso and a few tablespoons of reserved pasta cooking liquor. Using a whisk, mix the miso vigorously into the browned butter until the sauce is well combined, creamy and lump-free.
Add the drained pasta to the pan with the sauce and add in the pine nuts, parsley and black pepper. Toss well. Finish with a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and some micro parsley or basil if you wish. Serve immediately.
While I haven’t tasted Luiz’s own cooking I know that a couple of the London-Unattached team went along to one of his supper-club and were delighted to try some of the dishes pictured above including the quirky but delicious Marmite Chicken and the Mentaiko Spaghetti with a sauce is made from spicy cod or pollack roe. If you are keen to try some of the food from the book but hesitant to cook into the unknown, I’d recommend visiting one of Luiz’s Japanese supper clubs. But the book is an easy and helpful way for anyone not familiar with Japanese ingredients to get started.
You can buy Luiz’s latest book ‘A Japanese Larder’ online from Amazon
The perfect Christmas present for a food lover – one that I can promise you will be used again and again. For a similar guide to Chinese regional cooking please read our review of China the Cookbook